LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The first statements issued by companies in Britain detailing their measures to ensure their businesses are free from slavery are an encouraging start but fall short on detail, experts say.
Under Britain's Modern Slavery Act 2015 larger businesses will be obliged from later this year to make an annual slavery and trafficking statement.
An analysis of 100 early statements - made on a voluntary basis - shows that while companies are comfortable to state policies and describe audit processes, they are mostly silent on the slavery risks that might exist in their businesses or supply chains.
Nearly 21 million people globally are victims of forced labour, which generates about $150 billion a year in illegal profits, according to the International Labour Organization.
Products made using forced labour might include anything from shirts manufactured with cotton from Uzbekistan to dishes containing shrimp from Thailand and electronics using coltan mined in Congo.
Most of the 100 company statements were very brief. More than half were under 500 words and a quarter under 250 words, according to consultancy Ergon Associates which analysed them.
Four fifths of companies did not make any mention of countries, regions or products where they had found risks, Ergon said.
There was also little detail on contractors - an obvious risk area - and nearly one in 12 companies did not even mention their supply chain.
Ergon said audits were of limited use for spotting issues like trafficking because of its hidden nature, but that the companies did not say much about more detailed due diligence processes.
Ergon's co-founder Steve Gibbons said: "The lack of information on identified risks is a notable, but it probably has more to do with companies' reticence to reveal the challenges facing them than the actual level of identified risks.
"Only a few companies are currently comfortable with more expansive reporting, but we hope others will become more confident about making detailed disclosures."
Ergon stressed the statements were voluntary. Reporting only becomes obligatory after March 31.
"We shouldn't be too disappointed as many companies are at an early stage in thinking about how to undertake risk assessments on modern slavery," Gibbons added.
The companies covered sectors including manufacturing, food supply and agriculture, IT, construction and retail. Ergon declined to identify any of them by name.
(Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)